With Strategic Planning recommendations in hand, 
Diocesan Pastoral Council will begin meeting Oct. 7


By Kenneth J. Souza
Editor
kensouza@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — The ongoing Strategic Planning Process for the Fall River Diocese is about to enter a new phase as the newly-appointed Diocesan Pastoral Council is slated to have its first meeting on Monday, October 7.

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Having reached a milestone on Saturday, September 14, when Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., was presented the final recommendations of the various commissions comprised of nearly 400 volunteers who met throughout the year, the Pastoral Council will now be tasked with prioritizing and recommending to the bishop how to implement those directives, according to Laura M. Carrillo, director of Strategic and Pastoral Planning for the diocese.

“The strategic plan that was presented to Bishop da Cunha really is a recommendation document,” Carrillo told The Anchor. “I think there’s more than 60 recommendations from the different commissions. So the next step from there is the bishop is reviewing them with the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and then they’re going to work together with staff to figure out what the roadmap looks like for the next steps.

“They’ll be looking at everything holistically to understand where some of those things that are quick-hits, where some of the things that are going to take a little while to do, and how do we prioritize one thing over another given that each of the commissions looked at these as a sole [objective]. They looked at each specific topic area, not in a vacuum, but as one thing. Whereas the Pastoral Council really needs to look at everything holistically to figure out where we prioritize certain things.”

Part of Bishop da Cunha’s “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope” initiative for the Fall River Diocese, the strategic planning process moving forward will now be driven by the members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council which is comprised of 15 parishioners, five clergy, Bishop da Cunha, the Vicar General, the Moderator of the Curia, and Carrillo serving as “staff support.”

“It’s a pretty big group but I’m hopeful that once we have our first introductory meeting, we can potentially break out into smaller groups and figure out how we want to attack the [recommendations],” Carrillo said. “We’re meeting once a month, and we’ll be rotating where we meet so that we’re in different deaneries. Our kickoff on October 7 is going to be at Bishop Connolly High School, but you know we’re going to be meeting in parishes throughout the diocese. We thought it was important to get a good representative mix of people from every deanery so that we were able to move the meetings to help with the time commitment and the travel.”

Having been in her new role as director of Strategic and Pastoral Planning for just about two months, Carrillo said she’s excited to begin working on the recommendations.

“We’re excited to kick off that meeting to get everyone working together to understand the totality of all the recommendations and to figure out where we go from here,” she said. “I think the one thing that I want to make sure people don’t lose sight of is that throughout the planning process, a lot of actions have been taken already. I want to say there are more than 20 things that have already happened as a result of the process. So I try to remind people: don’t forget a lot has already happened in the months that we’ve been planning and this is the next phase. I see it as our next big opportunity to move things forward and to take action. But, at the end of the day, we have to be realistic about what the diocese as an organization can take on all at the same time.”

Having previously worked with companies like Walmart, Microsoft and Kimberly Clark in the private sector, Carrillo said it’s important to understand that these things take time and can’t happen overnight.

“I think when I talk to people individually and explain to them the scope of what’s in those recommendations, you have to understand it’s years and years of work,” she said. “Everyone wants everything done in zero to six months. A lot of times it’s just a matter of breaking things down into smaller parts and communicating them back. So, for example, one of the recommendations might be for every parish in the diocese to be online with their financials. Is that something that’s already underway and going to get done? Yes. Is it something that’s going to get done in six months? No, but we can break it down so we can get five parishes done in this amount of time and another five done in this amount.

“We need to break it down into more realistic parts and when you talk to people about it, they go, ‘Oh, you’re right.’ Because in other organizations you go through the same thing. I don’t know any companies out there that can just take 60 new recommendations and implement them all in one year. It requires a huge lift, a huge amount of time and investment, a huge amount of labor. And there’s a huge head count piece built in there, too. You don’t hire people overnight. It’s a process to get the right people in the right roles.”

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Heading into this first Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting next week, Carrillo said her biggest challenge will be “to keep people informed.”

“As humans we get very impatient and if we don’t hear something in two weeks, we assume that nothing is happening,” she said. “So we’re trying to figure out the best way to let people know what’s going on, especially the volunteer planners who were involved in the various commissions and who put so much work in. And, at a minimum, just sharing what’s going on and here’s where everything stands. We’re trying to figure out a way to do that that’s sustainable. Communications is such a big challenge in itself, but it’s also a great opportunity for us to do a better job of keeping people in the loop.”

Carrillo noted that in addition to helping implement the recommendations, she’s also working with the 81 parishes across the diocese to assist them with the “planning process.”

“I’ve just started working with the pastors who are in collaborative models now and trying to figure out what phases they’re in, meeting the pastors who are leading those, and then ideally working with other parishes as we expand on what their strategic plans will look like and helping guide that process along,” she said. “And I think my biggest take-away so far is that everyone’s in a different position and every parish is different. So I’m being mindful and flexible with that and just being there as a supportive option for them as they need it. There are some parishes where I walk in and they’re ready to go and we just start planning right from the beginning. Others are a partial way in the process, and others just aren’t ready to move yet. I’m trying to understand some of the dynamics because, again, every parish and every collaborative situation is very different.”

While the notion of taking on a diocesan-wide revitalization project might seem daunting to some, Carrillo said it’s a matter of learning to navigate the organization and looking for opportunities for collaboration that “we just don’t take advantage of enough.”

“So far it’s been quite a whirlwind and the scope of the work and things that I’m trying to get plugged into continues to amaze me,” she said. “The good news is there’s a lot of great talent and individuals in the organization and in the parishes, so I look forward to working with everybody. I think that’s what keeps me going — all the positive thoughts and support have been awesome and I’ll just keep plugging away.”

For more information about the Strategic Planning Process and to follow the latest news about the progress of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, visit the Diocese of Fall River website at www.fallriverdiocese.org


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